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Work & Rest

“Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.” Genesis 1:14

It is tempting to think that this is simply for marking time. However, in the next function we see that they are given for signs, seasons, days, and years. That sounds more to me like time markers, so what is in view here? In ancient times, much more than in modern times, there was a strong correlation between the day/night cycle and the work rest cycle. It is interesting to note that Psalm 104:20-23 says the following:

You make darkness, and it is night when all the beasts of the forest creep about….22 When the sun rises…23 Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening. (Psalm 104:20-23, ESV)

So the first function that these lights serve is to help regulate our work rest cycle. Spurgeon has admonished:

Let us praise God for common mercies, for they prove to be uncommonly precious — when they are once taken away!

James Smith springboards off of him to say:

Waking up from a good night’s rest — I feel exceedingly grateful for so great a mercy. What a refreshing thing is sleep. How many nights of good sleep I have enjoyed, for which I never prayed, and for which I never praised God.

But now I cannot sleep as I once did. Hour after hour I lay sometimes, and get no rest. I feel with job, that “wearisome nights are appointed to me.” Sleep is valued now as a great blessing, though it was once looked upon as a common thing. Now I pray for sleep, and when I get it, I praise God.

How little praise God gets from us for his common mercies — unless he deprives us of them. Then we prize them, pray for them, really enjoy them, and give God thanks. What we win by prayer — we should wear with praise.

This first week is God’s work week that is intended to provide a pattern for us. We all take note of the pattern of work 6 days rest on the seventh, but I think most fail to make the connection that God also worked during the day and stopped his work, or rested, at night. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” He recognized the importance of this regular cycle. We at times try to do too much, we stay up late and get up early. We end up burning our candle from both ends if you will. That is not something that is healthy or wise, or really sustainable. I speak to you as one who struggles with this. I feel that there is so much to do that I end up in an unwise cycle where I try to accomplish more by cheating sleep. God designed us to do our best when we work when we are well rested. So make sure you take that time to get the rest you need. A.W. Pink stated:

Sleep has been aptly defined as “the nurse for tired nature.” What cause for gratitude have we, that frayed nerves and weary muscles are refreshed and renewed by a few hours of repose! How glad is many a one whose body is racked with pain throughout the day — to obtain a few hours’ respite during the unconsciousness of night! Sleep is indeed a merciful provision of God’s, which none of us appreciate as highly as we should.

There is a flip side to this, we can sleep too much. The Psalm says that “when the sun rises, man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.” So don’t sleep in too much either. Keep active. Sleeping half the day away, oh what a wretched habit to get into. A little sleep, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty comes on you like a thief! There is a balance that we must strive to keep on our cycle of work and rest. And God has given us these lights to separate day from night, work from rest.

Chaotic Waters

Ocean Storm

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Genesis 1:9-13, ESV)

God prepares a land for mankind by separating the waters. Sailhamer notes that we should read this “in light of the subsequent accounts of the flood and the parting of the Red Sea.” This seems to be the beginning of a motif in scripture where God bring his people into his place through the waters. Water, specifically the sea, was seen as a hostile, chaotic force. This is why many of the other ANE literature had a god or a dragon of some kind associated with water that had to be conquered. The ocean was, and still is, a frightening place. So these images of God bringing his people to his place through water was very significant. The 23rd Psalm is one of the most popular psalms in our culture; it really resonates with us. It speaks of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. That image is close to what we have in the waters motif. God will bring us safely through these dangerous and chaotic forces into his place.

The flood was a drastic step that had to be taken in order to preserve mankind. The Red Sea in Exodus is separated in order to bring the people out of Egypt. In Joshua, the waters of the Jordan were separated so that the people could cross into the promised land. Psalm 29:10 celebrates God’s power saying, “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.”And again in Ps 77 saying:

(Psalm 77:19, ESV) Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

In Matthew 8 we find the story of Jesus calming the storm. In response to this his disciples say:

(Matthew 8:27, ESV) And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Jesus refers to his suffering and death as baptism. And so baptism for us represents us going through the waters into the kingdom of God.

Application

Often times when people are struggling with something in life, when they are experiencing difficult times, I counsel them to read the psalms. They speak to the cry of our heart. The psalmist pours his heart out to God over and over in his distress. That is what is so important in this water motif. Christianity is not pictured as some wonderful, peaceful, never-have-a-problem kind of religion. Rather, we walk in dangerous places. We travel a frightening path in life. Luke affirms this in Acts 14:

(Acts 14:21-22, ESV) When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

But though we traverse dangerous, chaotic, fearful paths, yet we do it not alone! God is with us! But God will bring us through! We do not travel alone! Hence the psalmist:

(Psalm 77:19, ESV) Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

Also Isaiah

(Isaiah 43:2, ESV) When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

So though times are tough, take courage dear Christian, you do not walk this path alone. Though you see not his footprints, yet he is there. Not only is he with us, but we have his promise that we will arrive safely. We have the assurance of the Almighty that we will not fail to reach his promised land, for he overcame the waters of death through the cross. If we simply trust him, we will find security and warmth even in times that seem cold and insecure.

Creation, Space, & Time.

Tim Challies runs one of the few blogs that I visit on a regular basis. I almost always benefit from his writings and links. He recently did a post on the age of the earth and explained one of the main reasons that he is a young earth creationist. Since I am an old earth creationist I thought I’d interact with some of what Challies wrote. He gives an extended quote from a theistic evolutionist (which I am not) that illustrates the history of humanity and the earth as scaled down into 24 hrs. In this illustration, mankind comes on the scene inside of the last 3 seconds of the day. Challies says:

Yet what stands out to me in this illustration is what I consider a serious incompatibility between the biblical account of creation and the evolutionary account (or, for that, any account that demands an ancient universe). What I cannot reconcile with my understanding of the biblical account of creation is that man appears only at the very, very end of it all. In this twenty-four hour day, Adam or an Adam-like figure appears just one-fifth of one second before the stroke of midnight. The day has very nearly elapsed and then, at that final moment, man appears. This split second encompasses all of human history from its earliest beginnings to the lives of Moses and Jesus and you and me. This means that the majority of history is man-less; almost every bit of the world’s history is devoid of humanity. In this understanding of our origins, the history of the universe is not the history of mankind. It is the history of nothing and no one with man’s fleeting role encompassing a fraction of a moment.

Yet the biblical account seems to move crisply and purposefully to the creation of man. There is no indication in the text that the world was ever in a billion-year process of preparation, that for age after age it awaited man’s appearance. Genesis appears to move quickly and deliberately from God’s first words to the creation of man to the assigning of stewardship over all that had been created. The biblical writers seem to want us to understand that the world was created for man and that it had no purpose apart from man. A builder makes a home so a family can move into it; God makes a world so humanity have dominion over it.

If we admit and endorse an ancient universe, we see a vastly purposeless universe that for the great majority of time had no human beings to bring purpose and order to it. We see that humanity’s role in the universe is late and incidental rather than timely and purposeful. We see God’s creation existing for a million ages without the purpose and presence afforded by the one being created in God’s image. And, for me, that is one powerful argument for a universe that is only as old as humanity.

Allow me to recreate these paragraphs, except, instead of focusing on time I will focus on space. The volume of the universe (as near as we can determine) is 3.58×1080 m3. The volume of earth, where man dwells, is only 1.08321 x 1012 m3. We have a hard time understanding these numbers, so allow me to represent this proportion of volume as a proportion of area in the United States. If we scale all of the universe to fit into the United States, this is what it would look like: The area in which all of mankind would fit would be orders of magnitude smaller than the surface area of a neutrino.

What I cannot reconcile with my understanding of the biblical account of creation is that man appears only in some very very tiny corner of it all. In the United States, man appears on just 1/100,000,000th of the area of a neutrino. Only on this unimaginably small spec does man appear. This area, smaller than we can see with our best microscope, encompasses all of the spread of humanity. This means that the majority of space is man-less; almost every bit of the universe’s space is devoid of humanity. In this understanding of our origins, the space of the universe is not the space of mankind. It is the space of nothing and no one with man’s minuscule reach encompassing a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of space.

Yet the biblical account seems to center crisply and purposefully on the creation of man. There is no indication in the text that the world was ever in a 92 billion light-year expanse of space, that for parsec after parsec was devoid of man’s presence. Genesis appears to move deliberately from God’s first words to the creation of man to the assigning of stewardship over all that had been created. The biblical writers seem to want us to understand that the universe was created for man and that it had no purpose apart from man. A builder makes a home so a family can move into it; God makes a universe so humanity may have dominion over it.

If we admit and endorse a vast universe, we see a vastly purposeless universe that for the great majority of space has no human beings to bring purpose and order to it. We see that humanity’s role in the universe is small and incidental rather than expansive and purposeful. We see God’s creation existing for trillions and trillions of miles without the purpose and presence afforded by the one being created in God’s image. And, for me, that is one powerful argument for a universe that is only as large as humanity.

Pragmatism in Voting

Introduction

Jer 29:4-9 says:

Jer 29:4-9 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: [5] Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. [6] Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. [7] But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. [8] For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, [9] for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.

We should seek the welfare of the city, which for Americans in a representative form of government, means voting (at a minimum). But every election year people are found wrestling with the concept of the lesser of two evils. They don’t really want to vote for a certain fellow, but they feel that they must because he is the only electable candidate from “their side.” My basic position on this issue is that, within a certain range of qualifications, the lesser of two evils (or greater of two goods) is a legitimate way of parsing between candidates. However, outside of that range, it ceases to be a legitimate way of thinking about the candidates. Outside of a certain range, biblical ethics are wrongly replaced by pragmatism or a Machiavellian approach. What follows is the fleshing out of this position.

Biblical Requirements for Rulers

It seems to me that the first thing we should do is look to scripture to see what it has to say about leaders.

Pro 8:16 ESV – by me [wisdom] princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.

Pro 29:2 ESV – When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.

Pro 14:34 ESV – Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

As a general rule, we want the righteous to rule. We want people of wisdom in office. At this point there is probably very little controversy about that. However, it is worth asking what a wise leader is as opposed to a foolish leader. Since someone has already beat me to the punch, I’ll simply link to their work.

Deu 1:13 ESV – Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.’

When Israel was electing tribal chiefs, the direction was to choose men of wisdom, understanding, and experience. Wisdom, again, is a pretty broad concept that is worth exploring in more depth. It is fair to say that concepts like character and integrity are wrapped up in being a man of wisdom. This is reflected in Jephthah’s advice to Moses in Exodus:

Exo 18:17-21 ESV – Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. [18] You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. [19] Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, [20] and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. [21] Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.

While still under the rule of Moses (and the appointed chiefs) they were looking forward to a king. And in Deuteronomy the king himself was to be subject to the law of God, not accumulate much wealth, not have many wives, and not lead them back from where God had just redeemed them.

Deu 17:14-20 ESV – “When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ [15] you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. [16] Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ [17] And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. [18] “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. [19] And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, [20] that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Continuing into the New Testament, we can also look at the offices of elders and deacons:

Tit 1:6-9 ESV – if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. [7] For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, [8] but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. [9] He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Again, I expect that at this point all Christians agree. Yes, of course we want a wise and righteous ruler. That goes without saying. The real issue is what to do when you are presented with two  people who are not righteous. We will get there in due course, but having looked at the ideal for our rulers, let us also consider our role as the people.

Biblical Requirements for the People

Do What is Right

Pro 1:10-15 ESV – My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. [11] If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; [12] like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; [13] we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; [14] throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse”– [15] my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths,

Pro 25:26 ESV – Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

Act 5:29 ESV – But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Mat 7:6 ESV – “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

1Co 10:13 ESV – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Mat 16:26 ESV – For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

These passages seem to assume that there will be some serious temptations to throw our lot in with the wicked, but that we should resist that temptation and instead obey God rather than man.

Trust in the Lord

1 Cor 10:13 speaks of a way out. But as we resist the evil ones and seek that way out, we should not always assume that it will be easy. Trusting in God is hard and it is worth exploring in more detail.

Psa 20:7 ESV – Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

The people, for their part, were not to put their trust in the kings or princes. Their hope was to be in God. The upshot of this is that, at a practical level, if your hope is in rulers, then the temptation is to move away from God’s law. But if their hope was in God, then they could follow his law and leave the results to him. This is a recurring theme in scripture.

The original 12 spies looked at the land and the people in it and 10 of them said it was impossible. Their trust was not in God. They looked only at the human level. And from the human perspective, God had dealt them a non-winning hand. They became weak in the knees and opted for self-preservation.

Sometimes they did obey God and it cost them greatly. In the days of the Judges, a great sin was committed in Benjamin that resulted in a civil war with the rest of Israel. The people inquired of God and he told them to go fight against Benjamin, and that day they lost 22,000 men. Disheartened they again inquired of the Lord and God again told them to go and fight. This time 18,000 men were lost. With such staggering losses they again inquired of the Lord and again he told them to go and fight. This time they won decisively. Sometimes obeying God will come at a great cost.

In 2 Kings 17, Ahaz was afraid of Assyria, and for good reason. It seemed like he had no choice but to rely on Egypt for help. So instead of relying on God the way they were supposed to, they looked only at the human level and decided to make an alliance with Egypt. The king of Assyria found out about it and imprisoned Ahaz and invaded and besieged Samaria. Hezekiah, however, trusted in God when, from an earthly perspective, he should have been trusting in Egypt. Maybe they weren’t the best option, but what choice did he have? Instead he trusted in God and the Lord delivered him from the king of Assyria.

This theme is repeated ad nauseum. You stick to God’s word and his standards, even when it seems impractical, and then leave the outcome to him. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Pro 16:33). Sometimes there will be a mighty deliverance. Sometimes you will suffer greatly for your fidelity. But, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways” (Pro 28:6).

I began by saying that within a certain range of qualifications, the lesser of two evils (or greater of two goods) is a legitimate way of parsing between candidates. However, outside of that range, it ceases to be biblical and instead descends into pragmatism. So before I tie everything together, I need to layout what I mean by pragmatism.

Pragmatism

Pragmatism is a philosophical school of thought. It would be difficult to get into much detail with it because there are actually many different sub-schools of pragmatism. For instance, Pierce believed in the existence of absolute truth, but he felt that it was largely inaccessible. Therefore he proposed we instead orient our thinking around what works. Future pragmatists would jettison the concept of absolutes altogether and what was “true” is what worked. If Buddhism works for you and Christianity works for me, then Buddhism is true for you and Christianity is true for me. But again, there are many different schools of pragmatism. My concern here is not for the more academic schools of pragmatism, but for the street-level version.

Pragmatism only asks “What works” and never, “What are we to be?” Ligonier ministries had an article on pragmatism where they said:

Pragmatism usually looks for immediate solutions without considering whether the answers will work in the long haul. Perhaps the best example of this is the Social Security system in the United States. The problem of people not saving enough for retirement was “solved” by mandating contributions to a government-sponsored savings plan. No one seriously considered whether there would always be enough workers to support these benefits, and now the time is coming when Social Security will be unable to pay out what the government has promised. Jesus opposes this type of short-term thinking, calling us to count the long-term costs of following Him (Luke 14:25–33).

This is not so much about whether Social Security is good or bad, but about whether it was well thought out. In this case the focus is on the immediate fix rather than the long-term solutions. This short-sightedness goes against the grain of how we are encouraged to think in the Bible:

Heb 11:9-10, 24-26 ESV – By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. [10] For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. … [24] By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, [25] choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. [26] He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

We, as Christians are not just looking to the next election cycle. We are not even looking to the rest of our life on earth. Our focus is in eternity. In another article titled “Pragmatism Vs. Principle” they say:

In this philosophy, the end always justifies the means. The driving force behind decisions within the scope of pragmatism is the force of expediency.

R.C. Sproul, when asking a US Senator about a number of issues, the answer he kept receiving is that they couldn’t address the issue because it was an election year. At that point:

I looked at the senator and asked, “Is there anybody up here on Capitol Hill who thinks about the next generation instead of the next election?” …No nation (or Christian institution, for that matter) can survive when its leaders are driven by a spirit of pragmatism or make their decisions according to political expediency….A person who is a Christian is called of God to live by biblical principles. …Without principle, the church as well as the culture will decay, and the church will become a mere echo of the unprincipled pragmatism of secularism.

It is well-worth reading the entire article, but the issue is that decisions are made based on expediency rather than long-term planning. But more than that, this article also highlights that in pragmatism, practical concerns trump principles.

Again, we are not speaking of an academic pragmatism that may deny the existence of objective truths. That is a different beast. The senator spoken of believed in the worth of the issues raised, but practical concerns, rather than the principles he said he believed, were what won the day. The ends justifies the means. A person does not need to be a full-blow consistent Machiavellian to be guilty of thinking that the ends justified the means. When a clear biblical principle is passed over in favor of what works, or a quick fix, or some perceived better end, then that person is guilty of pragmatism. James Torrens, writing at Reformation 21 likewise says:

Pragmatism has been defined as the attitude of being concerned for what is practicable, rather than theoretical or idealistic. It sounds attractive and reasonable and it is no surprise that most politicians, who want to see things done, are pragmatists. But what about Christians? Is there any room for pragmatism in Christianity?…what is deemed ethical – the right or ‘true’ way to behave – is determined by a favourable outcome. The ends justify the means and what matters is what works….This uncontained pragmatism (‘what matters is what works’) is used to justify all kinds of strategies in order to ‘advance the gospel’ or ‘build the church’, without any thought as to what kind of gospel is being advanced or what kind of church built…unprincipled pragmatism asks: what good is a dead Daniel, a dead Messiah or dead apostles? On the other hand, biblical wisdom asks: what good is a disobedient Daniel, a disobedient Messiah or disobedient apostles?

Principle is cast aside for practical purposes. Writing for 9 Marks ministries, Andy Johnson relays a conversation he had with someone about missions. They were discussing the merits of a book which advocated a certain approach to reaching Muslims. This friend, “affirmed the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. And he actually agreed that the method advocated by the book seemed at odds with the passages we discussed.” But he went on to say, “Look at the numbers. How can you finally argue with that kind of success?” Andy comments:

I wondered what it meant for him to say Scripture was authoritative and sufficient, but that the Word of God couldn’t compete with “that kind of success.”. . . I am not suggesting that everything we do which is pragmatic is ill-advised (taking airplanes overseas instead of boats, for instance). Rather, I’m talking about a willingness to overlook or even contradict what the Bible says for the sake of what appears to work visibly and immediately. . .  our problem is much more subtle and insidious. I’m talking about how many of us live and operate, not what we say, sign, or affirm. (emphasis mine)

This was a man who was a Christian. He was conservative. He affirmed the authority & sufficiency of scripture. I’m sure he would in no way self-identify as Machiavellian or as a pragmatist. Yet, when push came to shove, he had a hard time not going with what “worked.”

Case Study

I think that most people who would read my blog are the type who would generally eschew the pragmatic church growth methods. While playing U2 for worship and preaching self-help sermons may “work,” we are not being faithful when we do that. It is with that audience in mind that I offer the following exercise.

Suppose that your church was seeking to fill an elder position and there were three men who were nominated (two of which are very popular, and the third, while a great man, is not likely to get much of a vote). The church would soon be voting on these individuals. As we think through who to vote for we go over the qualifications for elders in Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy. We realize that these qualifications are not intended to rule out anyone who has ever sinned. Rather, we astutely recognize that these are things that should characterize elders. A man who at one point wished he had received a larger raise at work is not disqualified. But someone who is characterized by a love of money is. If all three men meet the biblical qualifications, then, it seems to me, that you should vote for the greater of the two goods, (or even the greater of the two who are most likely to be nominated).

However, further suppose that two of the individuals were disqualified. One of them was a lover of money. He was known to compromise on what was right for a little bribe. His love of money made him a servant to the highest bidder. The other popular man was a womanizer. He had been involved with several women in the church already, and he was currently in an open marriage with another couple. The third man, while he had very little popular backing, was a good family man who loved God and loved His word. He wasn’t perfect, but he was biblically qualified. Who do you vote for?

This doesn’t seem to hard for me. If they are all qualified, I will choose the best of the “electable” options. No harm no foul. However, if two of the three are disqualified, then I vote for the one guy who is qualified, even if I know he won’t get in. God’s word is clear on the matter, and if they are disqualified, then they will never get my vote. Yes, that means that possibly the worst of the two may get into office, but he will have to do so without my vote.

Conclusion

As Christians, we must live by biblical principles. So if a man is disqualified for the office of elder, then he will never get my vote. But if the candidates are qualified, then within that range, I may choose either the one I like the best, or the one I like the best out of the “electable” options.

The same holds true for political office. If scripture describes the qualifications of an elder of the church, or the elder of a city, or the chief of a tribe, or a king, then that is my guideline. We all know that no one is perfect. Some candidates may be more ideal than others. Some may be more “electable” than others. But as long as they are all qualified, then there is freedom in how a person decides who to vote for. But if a person is disqualified, then I won’t allow my conscience to be beaten into submission by the expedient. I will vote by principle and leave the results to God. If two candidates knowingly, routinely, and unrepentantly defy the characteristics that scripture lays out for any office that it describes, then I vote on principle, not pragmatism. Even if it costs me dearly, at the end of the day, I must obey God, not statistics.

A Few Reasons I Demur

A (quick) Response to “7 Reasons Why We Should Not Accept Millions of Years”

Here is my very quick view of things. First, I don’t think that the Bible teaches the age of the earth anywhere. It never sums the genealogies, nor does it teach about the age of the earth & universe. Nor is the age of the earth something that is logically required like the doctrine of the Trinity. Exegesis is when we extract from scripture its meaning. Eisegesis is when we read into scripture what was not there. So when we ask scripture to answer questions we may have, but to which it does not directly speak (or speak via logical deduction) then we may very well be in danger of eisegesis. I, therefore, hold loosely those beliefs that scripture never directly addresses.

Second, I believe that God is presented in Genesis 1&2 as a temple-building king. Much of the language is a picturesque way of describing his activities. I read the days of Genesis 1 as part of the that picture. It is historical narrative, but that does not mean that picturesque language is never used. As such I don’t think the “days” teach millions of years; that would be a strained interpretation and anachronistic. But by the same token, I don’t think they have to be literal 24 hr days. They could be, but they don’t have to be. Apropos (1) the length of these days is just not the focus or point of the passage.

Third, I understand the flood to be local in the same way I understand the famine of Gen 41:54 to be local. “There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.” Does this mean there was famine in Hawaii or Argentina? While that is a possible interpretation, I don’t think it is likely. The writers often use universal language without intending to comment about conditions in Japan or South America, etc.

Fourth, I recognize that there are many different interpretations of Genesis 1 (even among young earth creationists). So I am sympathetic to the fact that Dr. Mortenson’s seems to principally be targeting the Day Age view. His comments are relevant for some old earth interpretations, but not all. Therefore, what follows will be short comments, in keeping with my own interpretation, on each of the seven points he lists. The comments will be brief so I will not try to do a full presentation of why I believe the way I do (and neither has Dr. Mortenson as I have read much lengthier works of his). I hope this will be profitable to all.

For the first 18 centuries of church history, the almost universal belief of Christians was that God created the world in six literal days, roughly 4,000 years before Christ,

Since Dr. Mortenson is fond of reminding us that most unbelievers hold to an old earth, it is interesting to note that the relative young age of the earth was also almost universally held by all pagans. What we should care about is exegesis and evidence.

A growing number of Christians (now called young-earth creationists), including many scientists, hold to the traditional view, believing it to be the only view that is truly faithful to Scripture and that fits the scientific evidence far better than the reigning old-earth evolutionary theory.

A growing number of Christians also think that an old earth view is the most faithful.

1. The Bible clearly teaches that God created in six literal, 24-hour days a few thousand years ago.

No it doesn’t. However, I can understand how such an interpretation could be deduced from scripture.

The Hebrew word for day in Genesis 1 is yôm.

The definition of yom is irrelevant to my own interpretation (see the lower third of this post). In fact I’d grant that a 24 hr day is exactly the image it intends to convey.

That these creation days happened only about 6,000 years ago is clear from the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (which give very detailed chronological information, unlike the clearly abbreviated genealogy in Matthew 1) and other chronological information in the Bible.

There are many known gaps in the genealogies of the Bible. There are also many abbreviated genealogies. They were never intended to be added up. And even when we do, at best they can only give us a floor, not a ceiling.

2. Exodus 20:11 blocks all attempts to fit millions of years into Genesis 1…If God meant that the Jews were to work six days because He created over six long periods of time, He could have said that using one of three indefinite Hebrew time words.

Saying he could have said it in a way that would satisfy our modern curiosity about the age of the earth is not good exegetical practice. True, Moses employed the word than normally means “day” But there is nothing here that prohibits an analogical reading. For instance, consider naphash in Exo 31:17  It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'” Here, “naphash” (refreshed) means to be given breath after being wearied. But does God ever need to catch his breath? Does God ever get tired? Does God ever need to be refreshed? Clearly the answer is no. Rather we see this as a picturesque way of describing God’s activity in creation as though he was a human worker.

3. Noah’s Flood washes away millions of years. [T]he Flood was intended to destroy not only all sinful people but also all land animals and birds and the surface of the earth, which only a global flood could accomplish.

The focus is on the sinfulness of mankind and, therefore, God’s wrath against them. True, the animals were also swept away with the rest of mankind, but they are clearly not the intended target. I think it is reasonable to suppose that only those animals that were affected by the sin of mankind were to be swept away. Again, universal language very often has a limited scope (Col 1:5-6).

The Ark was totally unnecessary, if the Flood was local. People, animals, and birds could have migrated out of the flood zone before it occurred, or the zone could have been populated from creatures outside the area after the Flood.

There is no limit to how God could have saved people, so it does not logically follow that the ark was unnecessary. Because we can conceive of other ways God could have saved them does not make his actual choice unnecessary.

The Hebrew words translated “the fountains of the great deep burst open” (Genesis 7:11) clearly point to tectonic rupturing

Clearly that is anachronistic.

The Hebrew words translated “the fountains of the great deep burst open” (Genesis 7:11) clearly point to tectonic rupturing of the earth’s surface in many places for 150 days, resulting in volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Noah’s Flood would produce exactly the kind of complex geological record we see today worldwide: thousands of feet of sediments clearly deposited by water and later hardened into rock and containing billions of fossils. If the year-long Flood is responsible for most of the rock layers and fossils, then those rocks and fossils cannot represent the history of the earth over millions of years, as evolutionists claim.

Scientifically speaking, this is nothing close to true.

4. Jesus was a young-earth creationist. Jesus consistently treated the miracle accounts of the Old Testament as straightforward, truthful, historical accounts (e.g., creation of Adam, Noah and the Flood, Lot and his wife in Sodom, Moses and the manna, and Jonah in the fish). He continually affirmed the authority of Scripture over men’s ideas and traditions (Matthew 15:1–9).

Most old earth creationists also believe everything stated above (except that Jesus was a YEC). This is disingenuous. Only those who reject the authority and inerrancy of scripture think differently, and it is irresponsible to lump them in with solid inerrantists.

In Mark 10:6 we have the clearest (but not the only) statement showing that Jesus was a young-earth creationist. He states that Adam and Eve were at the beginning of creation, not billions of years after the beginning, as would be the case if the universe was really billions of years old.

What is in view, I think, is the beginning of mankind. I think this is the most exegetically responsible interpretation. Besides, Adam was created at the end of creation. Whether the creation period was 1 week or millions of years, in either view Adam and Eve were the last beings created which puts them at the end.

5. Belief in millions of years undermines the Bible’s teaching on death and on the character of God. Genesis 1 says six times that God called the creation “good,” and when He finished creation on Day Six He called everything “very good.”

I think the reference to “good” here is best understood, not as “moral” but “functioning as intended.” I won’t take the time to advance this other than to point out that when God said it is not good for man to be alone, God was not saying it was immoral. Rather, God had a design for mankind that would not have been complete without woman.

Man and animals and birds were originally vegetarian (Genesis 1:29–30, plants are not “living creatures,” as people and animals are, according Scripture).

This is reading too much into the text. Tigers were vegetarians? Sharks were vegetarians? These are many other creatures clearly show remarkable design as predators. I think that praying mantids were “good” because they functioned according to God’s design of the which would include eating flies. Holding the other view would require either that God created them as carnivores knowing the fall wasn’t too far away, or a rapid evolution from herbivore to carnivore. (His position on plants is an example of a red herring. Plants were described as dying just as animals and people were. So even on the YEC view there was death before the fall).

But Adam and Eve sinned, resulting in the judgment of God on the whole creation. Instantly Adam and Eve died spiritually, and after God’s curse they began to die physically. The serpent and Eve were changed physically and the ground itself was cursed (Genesis 3:14–19). The whole creation now groans in bondage to corruption, waiting for the final redemption of Christians (Rom. 8:19–25) when we will see the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21, Col. 1:20) to a state similar to the pre-Fall world, when there will be no more carnivore behavior (Isaiah 11:6–9) and no disease, suffering, or death (Revelation 21:3–5) because there will be no more Curse (Revelation 22:3). To accept millions of years of animal death before the creation and Fall of man contradicts and destroys the Bible’s teaching on death and the full redemptive work of Christ. It also makes God into a bumbling, cruel creator who uses (or can’t prevent) disease, natural disasters, and extinctions to mar His creative work, without any moral cause, but calls it all “very good.”

I agree with his first sentence. I also agree with his second sentence, but I would take exception to his use of Isa 11 as a proof text. His third sentence does not follow from the previous ones. His fourth sentence is an assertion in lieu of an argument.

6. The idea of millions of years did not come from the scientific facts.

I would differ. From radiometric dating to lake varves to ice cores to light travel time to dendochronology there is ample independent lines of witness by which we can derive dates. While there are some problems of course, on the whole they give us a pretty reliable picture.

It was developed by deistic and atheistic geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Ad hominem and the genetic fallacy and generally false.

These men used anti-biblical philosophical and religious assumptions to interpret the geological observations in a way that plainly contradicted the biblical account of Creation, the Flood, and the age of the earth.

An assertion that remains to be proven in this article.

Most church leaders and scholars quickly compromised using the gap theory, day-age view, local flood view, and so on. to try to fit “deep time” into the Bible. But they did not understand the geological arguments, nor did they defend their views by careful Bible study. The “deep time” idea flows out of naturalistic assumptions, not scientific observations.

It flows from very good science, and, in my estimation, does not contradict the teachings of scripture.

7. Radiometric dating methods do not prove millions of years.

I beg to differ.

There are thousands of PhD and MS scientists around the world (and the number keeps growing) who believe the earth is only about 6,000 years old, as the Bible teaches. It is simply false to say that creation scientists do not have reputable degrees, do not do real scientific research and do not publish in the peer-reviewed scientific journals. Visit our creation scientist section to read about a few of them, past and present.

Argument from authority.

In recent years creationists in the “RATE project” have done experimental, theoretical and field research to uncover more such evidence (e.g., diamonds and coal, which the evolutionists say are millions of years old, were dated by carbon-14 to be only thousands of years old)

This is a good example. Carbon 14 has a half life of 5730 years. It should never be used to date something to the millions of years. It is the wrong tool. It is like using a car’s odometer to measure the thickness of paper. A major error does not call into question the legitimacy of odometers in general, just the appropriateness of using it in this case. For more information on radiocarbon dating look here.

These are just some of the reasons why we believe that the Bible is giving us the true history of the creation.

I also believe that the Bible gives us true history.

God’s Word must be the final authority on all matters about which it speaks: not just the moral and spiritual matters, but also its teachings that bear on history, archeology, and science.

I agree here also.

What is at stake here is the authority of Scripture, the character of God, the doctrine of death, and the very foundation of the gospel.

I disagree. What is at stake is a certain approach to interpreting Genesis 1. I am guessing that he holds to the grammatico-historical method of interpretation as I do. But I suspect that he is guilty of abandoning the “historical” part of the grammatico-historical method. He is reading a modern controversy back into the pages of scripture. Rather than understanding the passage the way the ancient Israelites would have, he is demanding that it answer a question of our own making. The gospel is manifestly not at stake here and it is irresponsible of him to say so.

Dr. Mortenson paints those who disagree with him as compromisers who have (or are dangerously close) to denying the authority of scripture and even the gospel itself. However, among those favorable to an old earth view are the likes of J.I. Packer, Vern Poythress, B.B. Warfield, Lee Strobel, Gordon Wenham, O.T. Alis, James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, Chuck Colson, Herman Bavinck, C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, and many others. Anyone familiar with these theologians knows that they can in no way be viewed as compromisers. They are among the most stalwart defenders of the faith in recent times.

I think there is great grace in this area. I don’t think that the Bible teaches the age of the earth one way or the other. I have great  respect for my young earth creationist brothers. I can see why they come to the position that they do. I appreciate them standing by their beliefs even in the face of fierce opposition. However, the tarring of good brothers who are fighting the good fight with them is unfortunate. Disagree, by all means, but do so charitably. Have vigorous debates, but don’t accuse opponents of things they are not guilty of.

I am reposting some information from Justin Taylor’s blog:

Are you looking for a way to contact your representatives to let them know how you feel about this and to urge legislative action?

Susan B. Anthony List provides a way to Tell your Senators to Co-Sponsor the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (which would ban abortions after 20 weeks when babies have been scientifically proven to feel pain).

The March for Life Education and Defense Fund provides some guidelines on contacting elected officials.

Writing a Letter

  • Clearly identify what your letter is concerning, and address only one subject or piece of legislation per letter.
  • Clearly state what you want the Member of Congress to do (sponsor, oppose, vote for, investigate, etc.)
  • Be brief, but give good reasons for your letter or request. Keep your letter to no more than one page.
  • Send a thank you letter if appropriate.

Follow these guidelines when addressing your letter:

To a Senator:

The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator LAST NAME:

To a Representative:

The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative LAST NAME:

Sending an E-mail

  • The same guidelines apply to e-mails as letters.
  • E-mails will reach the recipient more quickly. When writing on time sensitive matters, e-mail may be the best option. Webmail forms can be found on Members of Congress’s individual websites.

Social Media

Find your Senator on Twitter HERE. [Also, House reps on Twitter.]

Call on the Phone

  • Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s or Representative’s office.
  • Ask to speak to the aide who handles the issue about which you are calling.
  • Identify yourself, and leave a brief message clearly stating what you would like the legislator to do.
  • Be brief, but give some reasons to back up your position on the issue.

To find contact information for Senators, visit:

http://www.senate.gov/reference/common/faq/How_to_contact_senators.htm

For House members, visit:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

As Matthew Hawkins of the ERLC points out, local/district offices (like this) can be more sensitive and responsive than the DC offices, particularly during or near the Congressional recess.
Johnathon Bowers provides a sample email you can adapt and send:
Dear Senator ____,By now, you may have watched the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress exposing Planned Parenthood’s profiting off of the sale of aborted fetal tissue. The content of the videos is disturbing and highlights the destructive nature of the abortion industry. I would urge you to please support S.1881: Bill to Defund Planned Parenthood. I am grieved that our federal tax dollars are being funneled to support an organization that, according to its 2013-2014 annual report, performed 327,653 abortions in one year.I realize that Planned Parenthood does not only perform abortions. They offer STD testing and contraception resources, for example. However, other organizations offer these kinds of resources, too, without involving themselves in the destruction of life in the womb. As the Bill S.1881 calls for, let’s direct federal funds to these organizations, not to Planned Parenthood.

Thank you for your service to our state and country and for taking the time to consider this very important issue.

Sincerely,

Loving Life

Do Not Murder

I would like to focus on this for a moment. If love is how we treat life as sacred, then surely murder, the taking of an innocent life is the polar opposite of considering it sacred.

(Genesis 9:6 ESV) Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

It is such a heinous crime that the one who commits it actually forfeits the right to their own life. We think of the horrors of the Sandy Creek Elementary school shooting. What a waste of life! What a tragedy! There is something horribly wrong with the world when we see events like that happen. We know that many more elementary school kids (close to 3000) lose their life each year through equally tragic events. But what makes things like Sandy Creek stand out is the fact that so many happened in the same place and all at once. But even Sandy Creek pales compared to some other tragic events.

  • It is estimated that some 8 million people died in the Congo Free State in the early part of the 20th century.
  • WWI saw some 15 million deaths across both soldiers and civilians.
  • The Russian Civil War saw about 9 million deaths.
  • Things in Russia get even worse under Stalin’s regime which killed approximately 20 million of their own people.
  • WWII boasts of perhaps the biggest loss of life at 66 million.
  • Second only to WWII is Mao Zedong who killed 40 million of his own people.
  • 158,000,000 deaths total

Oh the horrors that we have seen! We may also think of the loss of life that is due to natural disasters, While these are not murders, still, we mourn the loss of life in these events.

  • Aleppo Earthquake – 1138, Syria [Deaths: 230,000]
  • Indian Ocean Earthquake – 2004, Indian Ocean [Deaths: 230,000]
  • Banqiao Dam Failure – 1975, China [Deaths: 231,000]
  • Tangshan Earthquake – 1976, China [Deaths: 242,000]
  • Kaifeng Flood – 1642, China [Deaths: 300,000]
  • India Cyclone – 1839, India [Deaths: 300,000+]
  • Shaanxi Earthquake – 1556, China [Deaths: 830,000]
  • Bhola Cyclone – 1970, Bangladesh [Deaths: 500,000 – 1,000,000]
  • Yellow River Flood – 1887, China [Deaths: 900,000 – 2,000,000]
  • Yellow River Flood – 1931, China [Deaths: 1,000,000 – 4,000,000]
  • 9,363,000 deaths total

Total deaths 167,363,000

Sometimes it is not the sheer number that shocks us as much as the kind of people who are targeted.

(Leviticus 18:21 ESV) You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
(Leviticus 20:2 ESV) “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones.

As I understand it, there was a metal statue of Moloch with its hands held out as if receiving a gift. A fire would be lit to make these metal hands red hot, and then they would lay their babies in these waiting hands as a sacrifice to Moloch. God abhorred that practice so much that he said the perpetrator was to be killed.

Abortion

However, more than anything else I have covered thus far, the most heinous, the most profuse loss of life that has ever hit humanity is abortion. Why are we giving our money to heart disease, or AIDS research, or cancer cures? Don’t get me wrong, these are all worthy causes, however, they all pale in significance to the death toll of abortion. In fact, the annual deaths due to abortion are greater that the next 8 leading causes of death put together. A full 41% of all deaths are from abortion.

Looking at all of the wars and natural disasters above, the total toll from all of them was 167 million. Ladies and gentlemen, the total of babies murdered through abortion since 1980 is 1.28 billion people. The top 10 natural disasters that hit mankind plus WW 1 and 2, plus Stalin and Mao Zedong, and all the others I spoke of are just 13% of the deaths from abortion.

Nothing, nothing comes even close to the horrors of abortion. We have invented the single greatest disaster that mankind has ever seen or experienced.

Pro-Abortion Arguments

It’s just issue, it isn’t human

Honestly, I am surprised that this is even a question. Back in the height of the slave trade people actually tried to argue that Africans were not human. They were more animal than human. All of us can immediately see the absurdity of making a statement like that. However, they would put forward a lot of propaganda to support that position and some people were legitimately confused as to whether black people actually were people.

So it is today. We hear a lot about the fetus or the embryo and a lot about how it is not a person. I think there are some people who have actually been deceived into thinking that aborted babies are not really human. They really believe it is like removing unwanted tissue from your body.

Scientifically, there is no question about it. People beget people. We know perfectly well how reproduction occurs. What else could it be? It is not a chicken or a tadpole or a manatee. People reproduce people. Once the egg is fertilized a unique DNA signature is created.

You can’t tell me what to do with my body

First, of course we can. We tell people what to do with their body all the time. We say things like do not steal. Do not speed, do not take illegal drugs, do not smoke on airplanes, do not expose yourself in public, no yelling “fire” in a theater when there is no fire. Almost every law, almost every rule, almost every code of conduct is telling people what they can or cannot do with their body. That is just part of living as part of civilization.

Second, this is not primarily about the woman’s body. What we are saying is that you do not have the right to kill someone else’s body. This goes back to the first point. The baby is its own person. The baby has his own DNA, his own lungs, his own brain, his own circulatory system, his own fingers and toes and ears. Ted Bundy can’t seriously object to our homicide laws by saying, “You can’t tell me what to do with my body.” We’re not. We’re saying you can’t destroy someone else’s body! This kind of thing should be obvious. The baby is undeniably human and undeniably unique from the mother. It is not her body, it is its own body. It is a person.

It’s totally dependent on the mother to live

This is not even relevant. Viability better not be a condition for personhood or we are all in trouble. What about when a grandparent has to go into a nursing home? Does he at that point cease to be human? Should he at that point be in danger of having his life terminated? What about after the babies are born? They are still completely dependent on their mom and dad. But if independent viability is a condition for personhood, then what the Canaanites were doing with their babies in offering them to Molech was not wrong. These babies still depended on their mom. What about people who are injured? There is a car crash, and if the person doesn’t get medical attention they will die. At that moment they are completely dependent on someone else to live. Do they become expendable at that point? A couple of years ago, my brother was mountain climbing but developed a cardiopulmonary condition and had to be air-lifted off the mountain. Should he have been left for dead because at that point he was dependent on others for life?

(Proverbs 31:8-9 ESV) Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. [9] Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Not only should we not kill people who are dependent, but we are commanded to care for them!

A woman has a right to choose.

Sure. She can choose her flavor of ice cream, her house, her job, her wardrobe. But she cannot choose to be involved with a ponzi scheme and defraud people out of millions of dollars. She cannot choose to drive on sidewalks. She cannot choose to blow up buildings. And she should not be allowed to kill people, especially her own baby.

We shouldn’t force our morality on other people.

Again, this is just part of living in a society. Having laws against rape and murder is forcing morality upon people. And incidentally, murder is one of those morals that has universal recognition. Even pro-choice people agree that there should be laws against killing abortion doctors.

What if a woman was raped?

That is a horrible situation, and we should bring the rapist to justice; we should do all that we can to help the victim, and do what we can to prevent future rapes. However, two wrongs do not make a right. Suppose someone attacked you, and beat you unconscious and then stuck you in a lifeboat with someone else? What happened to you was horrible, but killing your lifeboat mate is not an option. You are both there under terrible circumstances, but it still doesn’t make murder ok.

(Ezekiel 18:19-20 ESV) “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. [20] The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

How does God address this issue? If the father sins by raping a woman, should the son die for the sins of the father?

What about a woman whose life is in danger?

This is another difficult one. Here we are dealing with two lives. I remember an episode of ER where there was a railway wreck or a subway wreck, I can’t quite remember. But there were two people who were impaled by the same pole. The situation was such that they could not save either one without killing the other. Obviously both wanted to live. What do you do in a situation like that? There is no easy answer. The doctors have the responsibility to try to save both. But if you can’t what do you do?

What about a mother who’s going to have a deformed child?

So what? How do we define the perfect child? Many Chinese abort the girls because they are seen as less desirable. Who gets to make that choice?

(Exodus 4:11 ESV) Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?

(Isaiah 45:9-11 ESV) “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? [10] Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” [11] Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?

God is the one who creates and knits and forms. Even the blind and the deaf, and the down Syndrome babies. I am told that some 90% of people with downs syndrome are aborted. That is sad.

(Job 29:12 ESV) I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him.

(Psalm 82:4 ESV) Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

(Proverbs 24:11 ESV) Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

Questions For All

I wanted to interact a little with this article by Matthew Paul Turner. It is easy to be dismissive about these kind of articles especially when the writer doesn’t seem to take his own advice. But rather than dismiss, I want this to be a conversation starter. But for there to be a conversation, there needs to be two sides. I want to turn the questions around a bit so that both progressives and conservatives will have something to think about. Then perhaps we can advance the discussion a bit after some introspection.

“I have a few questions for those people—those Jesus-loving folks who seemingly believe that they own the copyright on what God thinks about marriage.”

Matthew begins by mocking people’s religious beliefs. There are no conservative Christians that I know who think they own the copyright on marriage. Rather, they are all convinced by what they read in their Bible regarding homosexuality. The way to reach these people is not by constructing strawmen of their beliefs. The reason that I hold the position I do is because I think that God holds the copyright on marriage and I think he has fairly clearly communicated the design intent and scope of the institution. What now follows are five questions that Matthew wants us to think about. I’m sure that there is someone somewhere who is guilty of the things that Matthew imputes to them. But I do not intend to represent that fringe. My interest is simply to interact with Matthew from my own position.

What if you’re wrong? . . . you should be able to at least consider the chance that you might not have life all figured out.

I wholeheartedly agree with this point. Because God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, we should seriously consider the possibility that we may be wrong. Because the heart of man is deceitful, we should entertain the very real possibility that we could be wrong. To that end we should be humble before the pages of scripture and allow our all-knowing, all-just, all-loving God to gently correct our errant thinking no matter the subject. I am in full agreement.

Faith without doubt isn’t faith;

This is overstated. I would say that our faith should be absolutely immoveable and completely without doubt. But our faith needs to be in God. If God is the proper subject of our faith, then we should never doubt. That said, I now need to qualify that statement in a couple of ways. First, even though we never should doubt God, the reality of the matter is that we all do. We are sinners who often think that we know better than God. We don’t know the 10,000 things he is doing in the lives of people through even the small things of life. All we know is our own limited view, and from that view things  sometimes don’t make sense. So we doubt him. We doubt the sanity of his ways. We doubt his goodness. We shouldn’t, but we do and that is just the reality of it. But in our doubt God is still gracious to see us through. Second, we doubt ourselves. God is the proper object of faith, and as such should never be doubted. But if we have faith in ourselves, then that is not biblical faith. And the faith we place in ourselves really should be questioned. Even our interpretation. This is not a carte blanche as we will soon see, but we should be open to having our interpretation challenged. Matthew then asks a number of questions that I would like to turn back to him.

“What if all of those Bible verses you point to in defense of your opinions don’t mean what you think they mean?”

Indeed. What if the sweeping verses on love don’t actually embrace the thing you have in mind?

“Or what if they do mean what you think they mean, except they were written with context for a particular people during a particular time because of particular circumstances. What if those laws you bind yourself to are like those other laws that you don’t bind yourself to? You know, the ones that you laugh off with some mention of “grace” or “that’s Old Testament”… Like that law about eating shrimp or pork or the one about wearing clothes made of two different fabrics or that law that prohibits you from letting your livestock roam in the same field as other people’s livestock.”

The question, “What if you’re wrong?” is a good one, but it cuts both ways. The progressives also need to consider the possibility that they have been wrong. That in their love for their friends they have encouraged them in that which is wrong.

What if the verses on homosexuality are actually among the verses that do transcend culture? What if they follow with the other prohibitions on various forms of sexual immorality? What if there is no reason to glibly dismiss them as, “well, that’s the OT,” any more than we can dismiss the commands to love God, or love neighbor, or to care for the widows and orphans, or bring our enemy’s ox back to him (even if most of our enemies don’t own oxen), or that fathers should not sleep with daughters (even when they are adults), or that people should not have sex with animals, or that we should not commit adultery, or to leave the corners of our fields unharvested so that the poor can glean (even if we don’t own fields)? Just as we cannot adopt many of the OT practices because they were intended only to set Israel apart, neither can we dismiss everything just because it is the OT. The OT is fun to mock and dismiss, but if we take the time to understand it, it is filled with wonderful God-exalting, human-loving commands that we should take seriously. It can actually serve as a corrective to our own day and time. C.S. Lewis observed that every generation has it’s own cultural biases and predispositions that enslave it. And the only palliative to that is to let the clean sea breezes of the ages to flow through our minds. And that can only happen by reading old books. We are often guilty of what he calls a kind of chronological snobbery. This alone should give us pause before we simply dismiss the OT. As an ancient work of literature, it should be allowed to challenge our own cultural biases. How much more if it is part of God’s word? Even the parts the we glibly dismiss, is there anything for us to learn in the process? Few think that the shellfish prohibition is still binding today, but fewer still know why. And fewer yet have taken the time to try to wrestle with why God ever prohibited it. Have we thought about that? What about it was good (at least at one point in time)?

“Or for those of you who have invited the Apostle Paul to live in your hearts, do you adhere to his other New Testament laws with the same passion that you promote his very vague words about “homosexuality,” words that might actually not be about homosexuality at all.”

“Inviting the apostle Paul to live in your hearts” is a rather pejorative way to refer to people’s convictions. Also, his words are not all that vague. Nor is it too difficult to see that he does have homosexuality in view. Just because ancient Greek-speaking Jews used different words doesn’t mean the concept is not there. It has been the rather clear understanding of the church for hundreds of years, so he is welcome to set forth a different interpretation for us to consider, but he should also take his own advice and be willing to question his own interpretation.

“In other words, are you a male with long hair? Are you a woman who wears jewelry or makeup? Do promote the practice of women covering their heads when at your church talk? Do you start talking about context and timeframe whenever the gift of tongues is brought up in conversation?”

We should always do our level best to understand what a passage means. We should do linguistic analysis, we should follow good rules of grammar, we should understand the historical setting and the cultural influences to help us understand the correct interpretation. Different Christians take different positions on these issues, but all Christians should have reasons for their beliefs. I do take a different position on head-coverings than some other Christians. And I have, based on the text and an analysis of cultural norms, defended the position that head-coverings are not binding any longer. But more than that I have also tried to understand why the prohibition did make sense at least at one point in time. Is there an underlying principle that still transcends culture even though the expression varies? In my discussion with my brothers who think differently, I try to show them in the text why I think head-covering should be culturally limited. Simply saying “What about shellfish” doesn’t quite cut it.

If employing counter-examples is sufficient, then does Matthew dismiss Paul’s teaching when he tells us that we should stop passing judgement on one another, or when he says that we should be devoted to one another in brotherly love, or that we should live in harmony with one another, or that we should carry one another’s burdens? Does he ask all of these searching questions regarding those commands, or does he also assume that some are binding?

“But what if you’re wrong? What if all of the blatant statements you’ve made against gay people are little more than wasted words, spiritualized hatred that you’ve mistakenly packaged with Christ? What if all of the time/energy you’ve spent fighting/debating/proclamating is just lost time/energy that could have been used for some other, more life-giving activity.”

What if Matthew is wrong? What if progressives are wrong? What if all the prejudiced labels that they apply to conservatives have missed the mark? What if the hate-fill condemnation that they have leveled at their brothers-in-Christ under the guise of loving their neighbors is wrong? What if all the time spent fighting and debating on facebook was all wrong and could have been spent more profitably in other life-giving activities? Being passionately wrong has consequences.

All of this is not to dismiss Matthew’s question, for it is a good one. It is one that I think conservatives really need to think about. But progressives do too. And if it is sauce for the goose, then it is sauce for the gander.

“What if you’re right? . . .What if, just like you, amid heatedly debating topics and ideas regarding homosexuality, God starts daydreaming about the End of the World? And that, maybe just like you, God has to fight the temptation not to smile? Why? Because God knows just how much pleasure you’ll feel when, amid Heaven’s wrath reigning down, every one of your Facebook friends will realize that you were right about God all along.”

Again, suggesting that God is daydreaming about the coming judgement is just a pejorative, make-fun-of-conservatives way of framing the issue. This may have teeth with some people, but this really doesn’t hit me at all. I don’t day-dream about the day of judgement. The passages in scripture that teach the judgement are still there even if we find them distasteful. And given his first question, and given that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, we should really question our current understanding when we find ourselves making fun of something that God has revealed. Rightly understood, I think the judgement is both frightening and comforting. There are all kinds of evil in the world that go unaddressed in this life. There are wrongs that need to be made right. And that, in part, is what the judgement is about. At this point I am not arguing for a certain view of the judgement, I am only saying that we should applaud the concept of God making things right (however we conceive of that). It should also frighten us when we consider our own sins.

If you’re a parent, what is your reaction to Friday’s verdict teaching your kids? What has your child learned from watching your actions and listening to your conversations over the last few days? . . .

Good question. There are some people who are indeed showcasing the things that Matthew is saying. And that needs to be heard. But the same kind of things are coming from the progressive side as well. The thing about good questions is that they tend to cut both ways. Are you teaching your children that you should hate those who are different from you (whether they be gay or republican)? Do your words express a measured stance that better represents reality or do you just broad brush the issue? Do you really think that Bill O’Reilly is a helpful source in this discussion? Do you repost Jon Stewart videos because they are actually insightful?

“What if your child is gay? That thought might terrify you. Still, what if they are? What if they’re sexuality is fluid, somewhere on a spectrum between straight/gay? Has your reaction created an environment in which he/she will be free to tell you what they’re feeling or have you set yourself up to be the last one to know?”

What if your child is not gay? What if sexuality is not as fluid as you have thought? What if it is actually fairly fixed, but blurring lines fits your narrative better? What if children working through who they are is a normal part of the growing up process and what they really need is good direction rather than the do-what-feels-right kind of parenting? Again, this is not to dismiss what Matthew says. It is to take it seriously, but to ask that everyone take it seriously. I have seen a lot of vile reactions from progressive Christian parents filled with hate and vitriol. Is that really what we want to be modeling?

“Who have you silenced? Many Christians who are supportive of marriage equality remain silent because they fear the harsh backlash from Christian friends and family.”

Many Christians who support biblical marriage remain silent because they fear the harsh backlash from progressive Christian friends and family. Because among progressive Christians who are vocal about their disgust for conservatives, creating backlash toward believers who might feel differently than they do is considered holy.

The kind of rhetoric employed in this fight creates an us/them divide. Rather than really trying to understand where their conservative brethren are coming from, they poke them in the eye whenever they have the opportunity.

What are you losing in this fight? Because chances are, whether or not you’re willing to admit this, you’re losing, missing, not experiencing something because of this impassioned fight you’re engaging. . . Are missing out on knowing and loving some amazing people?

All of us need to think through these kind of questions. All of us may be alienating people. All of us may be wrongly modeling how this debate should transpire. All of us may be wrongly adopting the interpretation that we most like rather than the interpretation that is most likely. These are good questions that both sides need to consider.

I have turned the questions around in this post, but may that never be the final response to either Matthew’s post or my own. And now I go my way to talk with my wife and kids, about Matthew’s questions. Not about turning them around, but in an honest introspective examination. God help us.

James 2:6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. [7] For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; [8] he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

When James speaks about not doubting, he is not saying that we cannot be uncertain regarding the outcome. When my kids come to me and ask if they can watch a movie, they know that the answer may very well be no. They know that I love them and that I desire good for them, but frankly they don’t know what answer I’ll give. And often we don’t know what answer God will give. Sometimes it will be no. What James has in mind by doubting is something very different.

Notice the rest of the description. This doubting man is like the wave that is driven by the wind. It rises, it falls, it is tossed about. This man that doubts is double minded. The Greek term is dipsychos meaning two-souled. Di means two, and pychos means soul. He has two souls and is unstable in all his ways. In rabbinic literature, they refer to a man like this as a man of two ways.

Let me illustrate. Imagine a husband says to his wife, “My love, will you come to bed with me tonight.” He doesn’t know what her answer will be. Perhaps she is not feeling well. Perhaps she will be busy until it is too late for intimacy. Perhaps she wants to be wooed more. He asks even though he doesn’t know for sure whether she give herself to him that night.

But now imagine another husband who, on one night requests intimacy from his wife, and another night seeks it from a neighbor’s wife. This is what it means to be double-minded. This is what the Jews referred to as a man of two ways. This man is in bed with his wife one night and a different woman the next night and back to his wife at the end of the week. He is a man of two ways. The first man, by way of contrast, was completely dedicated to his wife and only to his wife. He asked not knowing what the answer would be, but he was a man of one mind.

This is what James is after. It is not that we ask things of God and we always have to believe that the answer will be positive. And if we entertain for a moment that God may say no, then we have doubted and won’t receive anything. No. That is not the point. Rather, you cannot be a man of two ways. You cannot go to God one day, and then seek the wisdom of the world the next day. Don’t vacillate between the world and God. Be a man of one mind that is given to God.

I have seen people whose marriage is on the rocks. They come for help and we talk all about the design of marriage, the roles of husband and wife. They go away with some things that they are going to work on – or so I think. Two weeks later they come back and say, “It didn’t work.” “What do you mean it didn’t work?” “Well I did all the stuff you said but he is still a jerk.” They completely missed the point. We don’t act in a biblical way in order to manipulate your spouse. You act in a biblical manner because it is the right thing to do.

But these same people will be off in a completely different direction the next day trying out the wisdom of the world. And when that does not satisfy (and it never does) they’ll try the religious thing again. They are tossed to and fro like a wave driven by the wind.

Count It All Joy

The apostle James is a no-non-sense kind of guy. His theology is an active theology. There are no ivory-tower constructs of life. So when you hear someone like James call us to count our suffering as joy, we should pause to consider what he has to say.

The Result

“Count it all joy, my brothers,”

James begins by giving our response. “Count it all joy, my brothers.” We notice first that James addresses the brethren. He is speaking to Christians. This is not, nor can it be, the response of those who are not saved. Being a Christian has its advantages.

To the Christians, James says that they should count it all joy. When James says, “all joy” what he has in mind is pure joy, unalloyed joy as opposed to joy exclusively. A parallel use is found in 1 Peter 2:18 where Peter says, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect [fear], not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Peter is not saying that the only emotion the servants should have is fear. So also in James, he does not here suggest that the only emotion one should experience is joy. There may well be other attending emotions. But the joy should be pure. It speaks to the intensity or the quality of joy.

In her book, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand paints a scene at a formal party. Everybody is there with their tuxes and their high-end dresses. The Hank Rearden says, “Dagny, look at those people. They’re supposed to be the playboys of life; the amusement-seekers and luxury-lovers. They sit there, waiting for this place to give them meaning, not than the other way around.” I like that line. So many people think of a party like that and think, “If only I were there, then I would be somebody.” They look to the party to give their life meaning when in reality it should be their life that gives the party meaning. Dagny and Rearden were brilliant minds. They worked hard and drove industry and innovation. So the party for them was a celebration of a life well lived. Rearden continues saying, “Do you know that we’re much more capable of enjoying this place than they can ever hope to be?” But everyone else hoped the party would give them meaning. So the wander around smiling, but not really enjoying themselves. It was a superficial, fake, searching kind of joy.

So when James says count it all joy he is communicating something very similar. The Christian is much more capable of enjoying this world than the unbeliever can ever hope to be. And we shall see why momentarily.

Pure joy! That is what James seeks. Genuine joy! Not something that is half-hearted. Not a superficial happiness. Not a plastic smile. James insists that we have pure, unalloyed, genuine joy. Joy may be attended with other responses too, such as sadness. But although joy and sadness coexist, yet the joy is an authentic and deep seated joy. That is our response. Now what is the condition?

Condition

“when you meet trials of various kinds,”

The condition which should evoke a response of pure joy is trials. When trials come, our response should be joy. This topic is placed in an emphatic position in the letter. It is the first subject that James launches into, and it is a topic to which he returns a few times. Trials and suffering were something that his audience likely knew well. But while religious persecution is primarily in view, James makes it clear that he does not limit this to persecution for the gospel. He says, “when you meet trials of various kinds.” This could include any number of things. Likely none of us are really suffering for the sake of the gospel. We are suffering for many other reasons. Some of the suffering may be inflicted on us by others. Some of it is self-inflicted, and still more happens purely by the hand of Providence. Dear Christian, this speaks to you. In the various kinds of trials that come upon you, count it all joy.

Reason

[3] for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Joy and suffering really do not go together in people’s minds. Trials and happiness are just too opposite. If you are hit from behind you expect to go forward. If you are hit from the front you expect to go backward. When you encounter trials, the expected response could be sadness, frustration, anger, or other such emotions. But the effect of joy does not seem to be tied to the cause of trials. So what reason can James give for responding in pure joy?

The testing of your faith produces steadfastness. You see most people can never get beyond the bare fact of trials to see another layer of effects. In verse 1 James calls himself a permanent slave of God. He is never not a slave. It is an all of life thing for James. But so many of us, indeed, most of us are part-time Christians. After the church hours we just don’t see God in our lives. We have done our duty, we have put in our time, so we punch out and go home. So when trials occur, we do not see God. And if we cannot see God, then we cannot see these second tier effects.

Our trials are not just bad things that happen to us. If they were, then James would be off his rocker in saying that we should find joy in them. If these trials are nothing more than bad things that happen to us, then the only proper response is anger or sadness or frustration. It would be asinine to have joy in those things.

But let God be a constant part of your thinking, and suddenly a new level of reality begins to open up to you. The trials are for a purpose. They are bringing about steadfastness in you. They, in fact, produce steadfastness. Like a muscle that gets exercised grows thereby, so also these trials actually produce steadfastness.

The term used carries with it the idea of refining. This testing is a refining. I have often said that the real you is not who you are on most days. The real you is who you are when things don’t go your way. When things are rough, the day is long, your strength is gone, when things do not go your way, the person you see in those times is the real you. The rest of the time you cover up the imperfections. But just like the refiner’s fire brings all the impurities to the surface, so also trials reveal the imperfections that were there the whole time. That is a scary thought!

Goal

[4] And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James continues now to talk about the goal of all of this. For the trials are themselves not the end. Neither is the steadfastness, which the trials produce, the end. Rather, the end or the goal is perfection. James has in view here absolute moral perfection. Not that such is attainable in this life, nevertheless, that is the goal. We all, as humans bear the image of God for we were all created in his image. But that image was severely marred and disfigured in the fall. So what is happening in our lives is that God is slowly bringing us back to the moral perfection that existed in the Garden of Eden.

One of the sweetest passages in scripture for those who are suffering is Romans 8:26-30

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27] And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. [28] And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God is working all things together for our good. Whatever your trial may be, it is for your good. Lift your eyes above this mundane level and see the eternal aspect of your situation. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. And since Jesus is God, then that means we are predestined to the image of God. That image that was so disfigured in the fall is being renewed in us through these trials.

Notice, however, that this is a process with which you are required to cooperate. James says “let steadfastness have its full effect.” He is exhorting us to do  something. This is not automatic. We have a role to play here. The refiners fire will have its effect. It will melt us, it will reveal the impurities, but if we do not skim the impurities from off the top, they will still remain. It should go without saying, but if we do not get rid of the dross, there it stays. Let steadfastness have its full effect. Allow that purification to happen. Do not resist. Do not hold tight to your sins and refuse to give them up. When trials come, and you begin to melt and your sins are revealed and float to the surface, then do the hard thing and be rid of them. Get rid of the sin that dwells within.

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